Wikileaks: Eritrea innocent in kidnapping of Europeans

NA Post | March 18th, 2012
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SIPDIS 

SIPDIS 

LONDON FOR AFRICA WATCHERS
PARIS FOR AFRICA WATCHERS 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/15/2017
TAGS: PREL PINR PTER ET ER
SUBJECT: MORE DETAILS: KIDNAPPED EUROPEANS RELEASE IN
ERITREA 

REF: A) ASMARA 282 B) 070649Z MAR 07 ASMARA IIR 6 908 

     0216 

Classified By: AMBASSADOR SCOTT H. DELISI, FOR REASONS 1.4(B) AND (D) 

1. (S/NF) SUMMARY:  On March 14, British Embassy officials
provided additional details about the kidnapping and release
of the five Europeans by the Afar Revolutionary Democratic
Union Front (ARDUF).  The British officials also shared a
report issued by the Government of the State of Eritrea (GSE)
which outlined its efforts to secure the release of the
kidnapped Europeans.  The report indicates that the GSE had
knowledge and access to the abductees as early as March 6,
although the Eritreans shared no information with the British
Embassy until notification of the release and travel of the
abductees to Asmara on March 13.  Despite the GSE,s lack of
transparency in communication with the British and French
Embassies and despite the questions lingering around possible
linkages between the GSE and the ARDUF, there is no
indication at this time that Eritrea was involved in any way
with the kidnapping, and in fact, the GSE appears overall to
have played a proactive role in facilitating the release of
the abductees.  End Summary. 

------------------------------
THE ACCOUNT FROM THE ABDUCTEES
------------------------------ 

2. (C) On March 1, in an ARDUF raid on a tax office in
Hamidella, Ethiopia, the five Europeans and thirteen
Ethiopians were, seemingly, caught in the wrong place at the
wrong time.  One of the Europeans reported that, during the
raid, an ARDUF rebel appeared surprised by the presence of
the foreigners in the area and signaled to them to go away.
The leader of the ARDUF attack overruled this decision,
however, and detained the thirteen Ethiopians and five
Europeans.  The Europeans reported that the Ethiopians in
their tour group appeared to recognize the kidnappers,
through tribal or clan affiliation but not through any
complicity in the kidnapping.  The Ethiopians were able to
translate what was happening for the Europeans from Afar and
Amharic into English.   The ARDUF kidnappers provided the
abductees with their manifesto at the start of their
detention, leaving the Europeans no doubt as to the identity
and agenda of the group from the outset. 

3. (C) After capture, the group was marched for the next four
to five days through flat terrain.  During this time, ARDUF
permitted four of the Ethiopians to leave the group.  One of
the Europeans reported that on Day 2 of their march, the
ARDUF leader announced they were now in Eritrea.  On the
fifth day (probably March 5), they arrived at a location
which the British Embassy believes to be the ARDUF
headquarters near, or in, the locality of Wandidel.  From
there, they were marched to a wadi (dried river bed) with an
oasis several hours away.  The group stayed there until
Monday, March 12, spending the days in the oasis and nights
on top of a barren plateau to evade the mosquitoes in the
oasis. (Note:  The kidnap victims also reported the oasis was
located near a cemetery. End note.) 

4. (C) On March 12, the Europeans were informed they were
being released.  Prior to their departure from Wandidel, they
attempted to give shoes and other supplies to the nine
Ethiopian hostages who remained behind, however, they were
prevented from doing so by their ARDUF kidnappers.  The five
were then transported by car with members of the ARDUF to an
Eritrean military camp.  The Europeans said that the ARDUF
members appeared to know, and be friendly with, Eritrean
military members stationed at the camp.  At 1100, an Eritrean
helicopter arrived at the camp.  The Europeans were loaded
into the helicopter and, at approximately 1530, departed the
camp for Asmara.  Accompanying them in the helicopter were
the Sultan of the Eritrean Afar, three other Afar leaders,
and the leader of ARDUF.  Upon arrival in Asmara, the Sultan
and the Afar leaders remained with the European hostages but
the ARDUF leader was swept away by Eritrean officials, a
group which reportedly included a representative from
President Isaias, office.  The hostages were taken into the 

care of the British Embassy until their departure for Addis,
via Djibouti on March 14.  The group was scheduled to fly to
London from Addis Ababa on March 15. 

---------------------
THE ERITREANS ACCOUNT
--------------------- 

5.  (S/NF) The GSE presented to the British Embassy a written
account of its efforts to secure the release of the
Europeans.  The account made it clear that the Eritreans had
been in communication with ARDUF since Tuesday, March 6 and
had full knowledge of both the abductees, location and
physical conditions.  (Note:  As reported reftel B, the GSE
had notified the British and French Ambassadors on March 6
that they had learned of the location of the abductees in
Ethiopia and would try to arrange for their release.  End
Note.)  The GSE provided no further information to the
British and French Embassies until contacting the British
Ambassador on March 13, to inform him of the abductees,
release and expected arrival in Asmara that evening. 

6. (S/NF) The GSE report said that the GSE learned on
Tuesday, March 6 that the kidnapped group was located in
Wandidel (Wayima), 30 kilometers south of the Eritrean
border.  The GSE then contacted three Afar Sultans of the
region: Sultan Abudulkader of Rahaita, Sultan Shahira of Bada
and Sulton Mohamed Abdella of Aiyum.  Through these
intermediaries, the GSE requested a March 7 meeting with
ARDUF at Oasa Gala, 10 kilometers south of the Eritrean
border in Ethiopian territory.  Initially, ARDUF refused.
However, on March 8, a group of Afar elders met and applied
pressure on ARDUF to negotiate with the GSE.  On March 9, an
Eritrean doctor was granted permission to see the abductees.
(Note:  The  Europeans confirmed they saw the doctor on
Saturday, March 10.  If the GSE claim as to the location of
the abductees at that time is accurate, then the Eritrean had
to cross the border into Ethiopia to see them.  End note.)
The Europeans reported that they were aware that negotiations
were ongoing for their release, which they believe is a
likely reason for their earlier transfer to the oasis away
from the camp where the Eritreans, Afar and ARDUF were
reportedly meeting. 

7.  (S/NF) The GSE reports that during the negotiations, the
ARDUF presented three political demands.  First, ARDUF wanted
political recognition for the organization.  Secondly, they
sought restitution for the salt mines taken over by the
Ethiopian government.  Thirdly, they wanted the Government of
Ethiopia to reimburse the Afar for salt harvested in the past
few years. The GSE reports that it dismissed ARDUF,s demands
and continued to press for the Europeans, release and
further claims that ARDUF eventually &bowed to the pressure
of the Afar elders8 and agreed to hand over the abductees.
On March 12, the European were returned to Wandidel and
traveled by car to Aiyumin in Eritrea ) a 45 kilometer ride
that took 2 hours of travel.  They arrived in Aiyumin at
1900.  The next day they traveled to Asmara by helicopter. 

-------
COMMENT
------- 

8. (S/NF)  The GSE played a facilitating role in the release
of the European abductees and for that the British, French,
and Italian Ambassadors are all grateful.  However, all of us
are puzzled, to say the least, by the fact that the GSE
appeared to know first-hand of the abducted group,s location
and of their physical status for at least seven days prior to
their release and yet offered no additional information to
any of the concerned Embassies in Asmara.  Two possible
explanations offered by our British colleagues for the GSE,s
reticence to coordinate more closely include the Eritreans,
fear of losing face should their efforts prove unsuccessful
and possible GSE concerns that the British government might
use the information to attempt a rescue of the abductees
using force.  A third explanation is that the Eritreans were
just being themselves, i.e., difficult to deal with and
insensitive or oblivious to how their actions would be 

perceived.  As noted reftels, Post has no basis for believing
that the GSE either ordered or orchestrated the kidnapping --
nor, despite its likely ties to ARDUF, do we have any reason
to believe that the GSE could have taken any further actions
to resolve the situation more expeditiously than it did.  The
GSE has, however, managed to turn a potentially positive
bridge-building opportunity with the Western nations into one
where we will continue to harbor questions and doubts about
the Eritrean role, even if they truly acted constructively on
behalf of the abductees.  END COMMENT